Wonder illuminates Chris Pratt’s face. Jaw dropped, eyes wide, he presses the button:
“Meet my friends … the Guardians of the Galaxy,” declares his recorded tough-guy voice as an open-mouthed smile spreads across his real face. He presses again: “Don’t mess with my friends.”
“I did this,” he happily says to a publicist on the Disney lot in Burbank. “That’s me! That’s my voice!”
Looking very little like his round-edged Parks and Recreation alter ego, Andy Dwyer, the trim and ripped Pratt works the “Try Me” button on the box of his Star-Lord action figure until he has gone through all the messages he recorded for the toy.
“These are sweet! I haven’t seen them yet,” the 6-foot-2 35-year-old says with infectious delight.
Things have changed rapidly for Pratt in the past couple of years. After 14 years in the business, he’s on his first big promotional campaign as a leading man, and it’s for the oddest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. He plays Peter Quill/Star-Lord: part hero, part doofus and all leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
As a boy, Quill is abducted from Earth just after his mother dies; he is raised by space pirates before striking out on his own and discovering a plot between super-beings Ronan and Thanos (remember the first post-credits scene of Avengers?) to destroy an entire planet and its billions of inhabitants.
Along the way, he meets fellow outsiders Gamora, a beautiful, green-skinned assassin (Zoe Saldana); revenge-driven, hyperliteral brute Drax the Destroyer (former WWE champ Dave Bautista); genetically and cybernetically modified Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree of few words.
As wacky as the Guardians comic already was, Marvel put the screen version in the hands of idiosyncratic weirdo filmmaker James Gunn ( Slither, Super, the NSFW Web series PG Porn). The movie has Gunn’s irreverence smudged all over it. It has a unique sass and saltiness not common to epic franchise installments such as this one, with a reported $170 million budget.
“Marvel is hiring more and more people like James because they’re giving us shots,” Pratt says.
Pratt did have to get into superhero shape (goodbye, doughy Andy) to play Star-Lord, but considering the actor’s off-kilter persona, this most out-there of Marvel movies is a much better fit for him than, say, Captain America or Thor would have been. And sandwiched around this role are Pratt’s Navy SEAL in Zero Dark Thirty and his “rugged ex-military man,” according to the studio, for the now-shooting Jurassic World.
From ‘Zero’ to hero
It’s a career shift he never saw coming.
“Up until this movie, there haven’t been action heroes I’d be right to play. I just didn’t see myself like that because I’m a little different than what’s typical of an action hero,” he says. “I grew up loving action movies — my favorite genre, really. I grew up watching Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone; the Dolph Lundgrens of the world. And these are dudes who … the rhythm of their souls is just so different from mine.
“I’m a comedian at heart. I’m a big kid at heart. I’m goofy and I care more about humor than physical fitness and being bada--. I never thought I was a good enough actor to pretend to be so much different from myself to fit into a leading-man type of role in a big action movie. I typically just put my own spirit into a different vehicle for any role I’ve done. It’s really kind of just been me in the role.”
He says the turning point was seeing himself in Zero Dark Thirty — and realizing he was not being laughed off the screen.
“I thought, ‘OK, wait a minute. Physically, I looked [great] and I was believable as one of the baddest men on the planet,’ ” he says. “Even Navy SEALs would tell me, ‘Hey, good job, man. You portrayed us well.’ ”
Casting Pratt as an action lead in a tent-pole summer movie is just the kind of gamble Marvel Studios keeps taking — and winning.
The studio began its unprecedented run of success with a lesser-known character (Iron Man) played by an actor perhaps better known at that time as an insurance risk (Robert Downey Jr.) and directed by a guy best known for indie fare and Elf (Jon Favreau).
The result: a mega-billion-dollar stable of film franchises. This summer, Marvel crushed a grand slam by hiring two sitcom-executive-producing brothers (Joe and Anthony Russo) with barely any feature experience to helm the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Welcome to a
The lesser-known Guardians functions as the portal into the cosmic side of the comic properties. Despite most people having no idea who Rocket Raccoon and Groot are, industry experts are predicting a $60 million opening. And Steve Englehart, who created Star-Lord in the ’70s, describes the character on his website as “an unpleasant, introverted jerk.”
Pratt can see that.
“Before, I didn’t see myself playing [superheroes] because I was just a normal-looking guy, kind of heavy, living a normal life, drinking beer when I want, eating burgers when I want — being a normal American dude, you know?” he says. “But now that I’ve done this, I think Star-Lord would be one of the only ones. Because there’s a douchy-ness to him that’s funny, you know what I mean?”
Pratt is adjusting to his newfound spot at the center of the insanity of a Marvel Cinematic Universe promo campaign.
“So far it’s good. We’re lucky the movie’s really good and we’re selling a movie that’s not a hard sell,” he says. “It’s something I’m really proud of and really like. If I’m ever in this situation, [but] selling a movie I’m not proud of, I think that would be a lot of hard work. This is pretty fun.”